The contest went back and forth in the beginning before the Wolfpack began to pull away towards the end of the first half. Freshman T.J. Warren quickly left the outcome in little doubt at the start of the second frame, as he exploded with 20 points to finish with career highs of 31 points and 13 rebounds.
Warren’s scoring outburst can’t be described as surprising considering he’s shown flashes all year of his ability to rack up points in a hurry. However, lately it appeared the college season was starting to catch up to the first year forward as he hadn’t looked as aggressive as he was in the first two months of the season.
The scary thing for the inconsistent N.C. State squad is entering tonight’s contest Warren would have been fourth or fifth on the team’s scoring depth chart. He entered tonight as the team’s fifth leading scorer but has spent the majority of the year bouncing between being the team’s second or third leading scorer until only recently.
The Wolfpack are obviously C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown’s team, but the 6-foot-8 freshman’s explosion proves when the junior duo are having an off night, Warren contains the potential to take over all on his own. Along with Warren’s double-double, Leslie finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Brown just missed out a double-double with nine points and nine assists.
Leslie and Brown are no doubt N.C. State’s two most talented scorers, but behind them Warren is easily the third best skillful offensive player. Warren is a lot more athletic and better at putting the ball on the floor compared to Scott Wood, the Wolfpack’s biggest threat from the perimeter and one of the best shooters in school history.
Richard Howell is also more than capable of putting the ball through the hoop but is more of a garbage cleaner, getting his offense through put backs and easy dunks around the rim. The senior is N.C. State’s glue guy, doing a lot of the little things needed to win games with his hustle and hardworking defense. However, compared to Warren there would be little doubt as to who is the better offensive player.
Given Warren’s breakout performance, this could be a sign of things to come for the Wolfpack. Trying to shut down Brown and Leslie, while containing Wood on the perimeter is hard enough for any team but adding Warren to the defensive worries could be what puts N.C. State over the top heading into tournament time.
There’s little doubt the team is loaded with talent however, the chemistry and consistency hasn’t been there to date. This type of outing could be exactly what the Wolfpack need as they walk away with a better understanding Warren is more than capable of taking pressure off his teammates to produce offensively. After Brown went down to an ankle injury, Tyler Lewis stepped up and has seen a significant increase in confidence from his teammates.
It could be a similar situation for Warren heading into the most important time of the year, as his teammates gain more trust and grow more comfortable with the freshman’s ability to impact games.
If that becomes the case, one of the biggest letdown teams of the season could have just stumbled upon the potential so many preseason predictions thought they had.